Search

Giving It Up for the ProsA pair of standout quarterbacks start over at new positionsand get mixed results

Feb. 04, 2002
Feb. 04, 2002

Table of Contents
Feb. 4, 2002

Winter Olympic Preview

Giving It Up for the ProsA pair of standout quarterbacks start over at new positionsand get mixed results

It took Indiana's Antwaan Randle El only half of the Senior Bowl
to bid farewell to his record-setting career as a college
quarterback--he was the first Division I-A player to throw for 40
touchdowns and score 40 touchdowns in his career--and say hello to
his new vocation as a wide receiver. In the first 30 minutes of
the game in Mobile last Saturday, Randle El caught a three-yard
touchdown pass, returned a punt 40 yards and made a twisting
31-yard catch with :04 left before halftime to set up a field
goal. After he caught another three-yard touchdown pass in the
second half, he was voted the game's most valuable player, even
though his North team lost 41-26 to the South.

This is an article from the Feb. 4, 2002 issue Original Layout

For Woody Dantzler of Clemson, the other noted quarterback trying
to impress pro scouts while playing a new position, the Senior
Bowl experience was bittersweet. As a tailback he rushed three
times for 14 yards and threw a 52-yard option pass for the South
but also lost a fumble. Dantzler, who last fall became the first
major-college quarterback to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for
1,000 in the same season, did little to relieve the frustration
he felt in the days leading up to the game. At the start of the
South's second practice, running backs coach Johnny Roland called
Dantzler to the sideline to go over footwork, but when Roland
turned to watch a play, Dantzler, ball in hand, practiced his
five-step drop. Old habits die hard, and so does the urge to play
quarterback. "That's where my heart is," Dantzler said after the
practice. "That's where I'm home."

By working closely with the NFL to identify the best pro
prospects, the Senior Bowl has become the most prestigious of the
seven all-star games. The scouts, coaches and general managers
who flocked to Mobile last week didn't want to watch the 5'10"
Dantzler and the 5'9" Randle El throw the ball; they wanted to
see if the two players' ability to make would-be tacklers miss
would transfer from college to the NFL. "Hines Ward is one of the
hottest guys in pro football," Buffalo Bills quarterbacks coach
Steve Kragthorpe said of the Pittsburgh Steelers wideout, who was
a standout high school quarterback and saw action under center
for Georgia as a sophomore in 1995. "Are they the next Hines
Ward?"

Dantzler and Randle El, both of whom played quarterback in the
East-West Shrine Game in San Francisco on Jan. 12, could have
turned down the Senior Bowl invitation, as Heisman winner Eric
Crouch of Nebraska did. Crouch was asked to play running back in
Mobile but opted for this Saturday's Hula Bowl when that game
offered him a quarterback spot. "Right now I'm a wide
receiver-punt returner-running back kind of guy," said Randle El
last week. After a pause he added, "At this game."

It's nerve-racking enough for a Senior Bowl player to have to
display his talent alongside other top players at his position.
Dantzler had to showcase himself at a position he'd never played,
taking turns with such highly rated running back prospects as
Travis Stephens of Tennessee, DeShaun Foster of UCLA and Adrian
Peterson of Georgia Southern. In his first practice Dantzler
failed to catch several punts, dropped one handoff and botched a
pitch. "It was awful out there," Dantzler said. "I felt out of
place. I felt sorry. I felt uncoordinated."

A few NFL players used the Senior Bowl to take the first public
step toward a successful change of position. For instance, two
years ago New Mexico safety Brian Urlacher switched to linebacker
in Mobile; he's going to the Pro Bowl this month. The move from
safety to linebacker, however, is like an American learning to
speak the native tongue in London; a quarterback moving to
running back is an American in Paris. A rare example of the
latter in recent years is Brian Mitchell, a former passer at
Southwestern Louisiana who has set NFL records as a kick
returner.

Asked to name a quarterback who had successfully switched to
running back in the NFL, Kansas City Chiefs president Carl
Peterson showed his age. "How about Dan Reeves?" he asked,
referring to the Atlanta Falcons' coach, who played quarterback
at South Carolina from 1962 through '64 before playing eight
years at running back for the Dallas Cowboys. "It's more
difficult to go to running back," Peterson said. "A back has to
get to the hole and read the block. He has to know when to be
patient and let the blocks develop, and when to see the room
outside and take it."

There's also the matter of collisions. Quarterbacks are taught to
avoid them, but running backs can't, especially between the
tackles. In Dantzler's third practice he ran into a hole that was
quickly filled by Georgia linebacker Will Witherspoon and got
nowhere. After the play Roland, a member of the Arizona
Cardinals' staff, which coached the South, counseled Dantzler to
be the aggressor. "Sometimes you have to dip your pad and be your
own best blocker," Roland said later. "He's starting to hit the
hole better." Other NFL coaches watching Dantzler remained
skeptical. Some questioned whether he could handle the blocking.
Some were concerned about his speed, which will be scrutinized at
the scouting combine in Indianapolis this month.

After his junior year Randle El figured it would be in his
interest to switch from quarterback to wideout if he wanted to
play in the NFL. He spent all of spring practice and August
practice learning the position. However, after his replacement at
quarterback, junior Tommy Jones, failed to move Indiana in a
35-14 opening loss at North Carolina State, Randle El returned to
quarterback.

Although he didn't appear as raw as Dantzler in Mobile, he
clearly had some learning to do. In a one-on-one drill against
Kansas State safety Jon McGraw, Randle El ran a dig pattern, in
which he was supposed to sprint downfield, stop and catch a ball
already on its way to him. When Randle El tried to stop, his feet
went out from under him and he sprawled on the grass. But, oh,
how Randle El caught the ball. He may be small, but his hands are
large, and in skeleton drills he caught nearly everything thrown
to him.

Also in practice, Randle El got a brief look at quarterback, a
promise made to him by coach Mike Holmgren, whose Seattle
Seahawks staff coached the North. "Part of my role here is to
help these guys realize their dream," Holmgren said. "I'm doing
extra stuff with Antwaan throwing, and hopefully it will give him
an honest evaluation. I'd be the last person to say, 'No, you
can't do this.'"

For the first 15 minutes of Wednesday's practice, Holmgren pulled
two receivers and two tight ends to one end zone and had Randle
El throw outs, crossing patterns and digs from five- and
seven-step drops. "Mike and I thought he threw well," Seattle
quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn said. "He's not going to be your
starter. He didn't have a cannon, but he showed enough zip on the
ball."

Randle El won over many NFL observers, including Baltimore Ravens
vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome. "It seems that
Randle El has adapted to being a receiver," Newsome, a Hall of
Fame tight end, said at midweek. "He could be a weapon." San
Francisco 49ers scout Bill Rees said Randle El's performance last
Saturday improved his draft position. "He's climbed to the middle
rounds," Rees said.

As for Dantzler, Newsome preached patience. So did New York Jets
running backs coach Bishop Harris. "With all his ability, you
have to give him a chance," Harris said. "Not everybody can score
touchdowns. Dantzler has shown the ability to get [end zone]
paint on his pants."

Mitchell believes Dantzler and Randle El have to give themselves
a chance to succeed at their new positions. After he set NCAA
records as a pass-run quarterback, Mitchell said, it took him
until draft day, when the Redskins picked him in the fifth round,
to leave his signal-calling days behind him. "History is full of
stories about guys who only wanted to play quarterback in the NFL
and never got to this league," Mitchell said. "Even if that's
your dream, you've still got to be open to what they want you to
do. If I came out of college and said, 'I'm only playing
quarterback,' none of this would have happened."

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: DAVID BERGMAN
Dantzler had to showcase himself at a position he'd never played,
and he rushed for only 14 yards.
"Randle El has adapted to being a receiver," Newsome said. "He
could be a weapon."